Competitive host city
As a host city, Dubai can compete with and exceed the offer of many of our international counterparts. Make no mistake: global competition is tough. From Las Vegas to New York, through a collection of picturesque and interconnected European capitals, we have to work extraordinarily hard to persuade established events to venture somewhere new. But the rewards make the effort worthwhile because enticing high-level international congresses here boosts our global profile and contributes directly to our nation’s development in healthcare, science, industry, technology and business.
Securing a congress for our city and venue is at the very least an emirate-wide affair, and often a national effort. That we have enjoyed success so far is due to the way we have worked together at an individual and organisational level, fostering a spirit of cooperation, consultation and collaboration. This is not new. I have seen it first hand since I first joined the then Convention Bureau of Dubai back in the early 2000s, and in my time with DWTC that collaborative effort has only intensified. When a congress comes to Dubai it does so knowing that it has the total backing of all local stakeholders, from Emirates airline to the Roads & Transport Authority, Dubai Police and others across the public and private sectors.
Although determination and purpose have proven essential, other factors are in play. As an emirate we have been able to furnish organisations that grace us with their congresses with a few firsts of their own. For many associations that partner with us it is their first event outside of traditional home territories in Europe and North America. As a well-connected modern city, Dubai has been able to offer these organisations a first exploratory outreach to an audience in the MENA region, and with it the potential to expand their international membership and establish a local foothold.
Our unique combination of connectivity and the size of venue we offer has allowed our partners to reach new heights in the scale and reach of their events. For instance when we hosted Sibos, an event focused on the financial services sector, not only was it their first visit to the region, but it became their largest ever in terms of size space. When the International Diabetes Federation came here at the end of 2011 it brought with it nearly 15,000 participants, a record for the organisation at the time. The following year the World Heart Federation hosted its World Congress of Cardiology & Cardiovascular Health, again breaking records for the number of delegates in attendance and setting the event up for a triumphant return in December this year.
A connected location
Ease of access is essential for these events, where thousands of people have to be moved and Dubai’s connectivity advantages become clear. With two major airlines and three international airports, all within 90 minutes of each other, Dubai and the UAE have built robust links with the more than one-third of the world’s population that lives within a four-hour flight of our city. This huge pool of people brings with it a large potential membership base.
It was a great experience for us to host these events and for their organisations to avail of a first opportunity to work in the region. But more than that it put these organisations, each doing their own important work, in front of a new and obviously enthusiastic audience. People from around the region were given a fresh opportunity to network with their international peers, share ideas and experience the catalytic power of a congress.
There is a significant economic impact from their presence too. While a congress doesn’t bring in the footfall of a massive trade fair – of which we host many – it competes with those larger events in more subtle ways. In 2016 we hosted 12 large-scale congresses at DWTC, attracting close to 55,000 delegates. Locally-based attendees accounted for 45 per cent of footfall – a sure sign of the development of a healthy local base – and international visitors drove economic activity in the emirate. The total economic output of those 12 conferences was worth AED579m ($158m) to the wider Dubai economy, while the Gross Value Added to the Dubai economy by DWTC amounted to AED314m.
The nuance we have found is that the spend per person is greater from congress attendees than visitors to a trade fair. The former spends an average of AED2,440 per day, and the latter AED1,017, the majority of which is accounted for by hotel spend which stands at AED1,497 and AED648 respectively. Some 45 per cent of congress delegates prefer five-star hotels for their stay, compared to 36 per cent in the case of exhibition attendees. Finally, the different dynamic that comes with a congress means that delegates often stay for an extra few days, and are frequently accompanied by family members.
Dubai’s reputation as a family-friendly destination means that it can cater comfortably to both the business and leisure traveller. Added to this is the DWTC venue itself, which, right in the middle of the city, is surrounded by numerous accommodation options at a range of price points, and is connected superbly to the rest of the emirate by numerous private and public transport options, including the expanding Dubai Metro. Having a venue that stands apart from the many high-end hotel chains also offers an advantage when pitching for events from not-for-profit and non-profit member organisations, which may be more sensitive to how expenditure is perceived.